Welcome back to GiveMeSport's 2018 NFL season preview series. Over the course of August, we're taking a look at all 32 teams in the NFL and how they look heading into the new season.
Yesterday we took a look at the Detroit Lions, examining their chances of rebounding from a disappointing 2017 campaign that saw them miss out on Playoff football and head into the 2018 season with a new head coach in Matt Patricia. You can take a look here for more on that.
Today we're turning our attention to the Houston Texans who finished 2017 last in the AFC South with a 4-12 but have hopes of making it to the AFC Championship and beyond this year. Let's get into it...
Things looked so good Houston. It was going great, rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson defied everyone by just doing exactly what he did at Clemson against sub-standard ACC defenses, except this time it was against players who actually get paid (over the table, at least).
They were 3-3 before their bye week, with Watson looking incredible in blowout wins over the Titans and Browns, and even impressing in tight losses to the Patriots and Chiefs.
The Texans followed up the bye week with a 3-point loss the Seahawks which saw Watson throw four touchdowns on the Seattle defense. Watson then tore his ACL in practice after the eighth game of the season. In some actual good news for the offense, DeAndre Hopkins put forward a strong candidacy for the title of best wide receiver in the league, with thirteen TDs and nearly 1,400 yards on the season.
Speaking of injuries, JJ Watt missed a large chunk of his second consecutive season, with a leg fracture while Whitney Mercilus's pec injury in the same game also ruling him out of the season. After losing the two defensive stalwarts, Houston went 2-10, compared to the 2-2 record they had while Watt and Mercilus were healthy.
The Texans ended the season with a 6-loss skid, going 4-12 and finishing dead last in the AFC South.
Free Agency Moves
At times, the Texans offensive line resembled a turnstile last year. Unfortunately, it's only been marginally improved by the addition of Seantrel Henderson and Zach Fulton. Both will start, at tackle and guard respectively, but they aren't the type of talent that can guarantee Watson a nice pocket or Lamar Miller some decent running lanes.
There is improvement on the secondary, however. The big-name acquisition and new top dog at safety is Tyrann Mathieu from the Cardinals. The Honey Badger is going to slot in alongside Andre Hal while Aaron Colvin joins from the Jaguars and gives Houston one of the league's better slot corners.
Injury permitting, the Texans can be considered a top-tier defense next year.
Justin Reid - S, Stanford.
Martinas Rankin - OT, Miss State.
Jordan Atkins - TE, UFC.
Keke Coutee - WR, Texas Tech.
Duke Ejiofor - DE, Wake Forest.
Jordan Thomas - TE, Miss State.
Peter Kalambayi - LB, Stanford.
Jermaine Kelly - CB, San Jose State.
FANS EYE VIEW
We spoke to Texans fan Ben Rolfe, who gave us a bit more insight into what's going on over in Houston. Give him a follow over on Twitter: @BenRolfe15.
GMS: How would you rate the Texans' offseason?
The major additions of the offseason were among the defensive backs and at the offensive line. With three new offensive linemen all brought in as free agents it will be interesting to see how the group gels. This was perhaps the weakest part of the roster last year so any improvement will be welcome and it was nice to see the Texans attempt to address it.
The defensive back additions are promising. We all know about Tyrann Matheu and what he can bring. The interesting one is Aaron Colvin who was a slot corner in Jacksonville playing alongside two quality corners in Ramsay and Bouye. How he adjusts to being an outside cover corner will be something to watch with keen interest as the season gets underway. The drafting of Keke Coutee, who will primarily serve as a kick returner but should see snaps at receiver, and Jordan Akins are further exciting additions which show real commitment to this offense.
Overall I think the Texans did a solid job in the offseason but if Colvin and the offensive line gel and play well then it could easily have been a really good offseason in Houston. Of course the biggest key of this offseason was getting Deshaun Watson back healthy and fingers crossed that looks to be progressing well.
GMS: What's the general opinion of the job Bill O'Brien is doing?
O'Brien has not really blown anyone with the job he has done in Houston. He will be under the microscope this year. His decision to not start Watson from the beginning last season made him look foolish. What we saw from Watson last year may be the only real reason he is still in the job. If he struggles to get the best out of his young QB to start the season he may find his seat getting hot pretty quickly.
GMS: Give us your thoughts on the state of the offense?
Naturally, Watson is key. If he is healthy then the combination of him DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller could be pretty explosive. Hopefully, Jordan Akins can make himself a nuisance for opposing defenses in the passing game as give Watson a reliable receiving tight end to throw to.
The biggest concerns for me are in three areas. 1) The third wide receiver. This could easily be the role Akins performs but I am hopeful Keke Coutee can make enough impact in training camp to beat out Braxton Miller.
2) The offensive line. It cannot be much worse than 2017 but if it is not significantly better it could derail any chances this team has.
3) The running back situation. The resigning of Alfred Blue suggests to me that D'Onta Foreman is not ready to step up and challenge Lamar Miller and that Tyler Ervin is not close either. That is a concern as the running game could do with a boost and it just feels like the Texans are rolling back the same plan that has underwhelmed in the past.
GMS: Your thoughts on the state of the defense... What's good, bad, different from 2017?
This could be the biggest strength or the biggest weakness. Obviously, the defensive backs have changed and if the two new additions slot in comfortably then it could be a fairly strong defensive backfield. J.J. Watt's health will always be key, if he remains healthy then this defense is a fearsome proposition. If he gets injured things take a big step back.
As for the linebackers, it would be nice to see Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus wreak havoc. The weakness here is that the depth does not feel great and a couple of key injuries could leave them floundering quickly.
GMS: What's your deepest concern for 2018?
The offensive line failing to protect Watson. Nothing will be worse than Watson getting continually hit. If that happens I fear for him playing all 16 games.
GMS: Give us a name to watch out for?
He is a fairly well-known name especially in fantasy circles but Will Fuller. In four games with Deshaun Watson, he put up 279 receiving yards with seven touchdowns. Without Watson, he had just 144 receiving yards and zero touchdowns in six games. If Watson is healthy all season then Fuller could be an absolute monster.
GMS: And finally...your crystal ball prediction for the season?
If Watson stays healthy then playoffs are absolutely possible, and given the weakness of the AFC, I could see them making a run to the AFC championship game, where there is every chance they could face the Patriots in what will be a repeat of their opening game. In a one-off game like that, they have a real shot of being a surprise Super Bowl team.
However, my concern is that they struggle to keep Watson healthy down the stretch and either just miss the playoffs, or get eliminated with Brandon Weeden or Joe Webb as QB in their first playoff game. I think we can all agree the first option would be a lot more fun for everyone!
Week 1: @ Patriots
Week 2: @ Titans
Week 3: vs Giants
Week 4: @ Colts
Week 5: vs Cowboys
Week 6: vs Bills
Week 7: @ Jaguars
Week 8: vs Dolphins
Week 9: @ Broncos
Week 10: Bye Week
Week 11: @ Redskins
Week 12: vs Titans
Week 13: vs Browns
Week 14: vs Colts
Week 15: @ Jets
Week 16: @ Eagles
Week 17: vs Jaguars
The Fantasy Outlook
Before his injury, Deshaun Watson was by far and away the best quarterback in fantasy football. His final five games as a starter were good for 28.3 fantasy points per game, Russell Wilson was second with 21.7 fpg. That's how good Watson was.
In recent drafts, Watson has been going off the board at 4.05, as the second quarterback only behind Aaron Rodgers. It's an incredible rise for a player who started 2017 as a backup. But is he worth it? Well, if you think the O-Line can keep him upright then he could well be. But that's a risk.
In the 4th round, his price is too rich for my liking. I feel like I need at least 5 skill position players before taking a QB. But if he performs like he did before in 2018, over the course of a season, then I'll definitely be reconsidering that approach.
Watson's so good because of the playbook and his weapons. The main one: Hopkins. Currently the only other wide receiver being taken in the first round of drafts, Nuk is a beast. If he's there at 9, take him. If you offer me Hopkins or Fournette, I'm taking the receiver. It's that simple.
At the 6.02 mark, Will Fuller is being taken within a group of receivers including Golden Tate and Jarvis Landry, both of whom I'd prefer on my roster - especially in PPR - because they provide a stable floor. His hype is built off a completely unsustainable TD-scoring run that surely can't continue. He won't score 16 TDs next season, and with his boom-or-bust, DeSean Jackson style, he's not worth an early 6th rounder.
Ben may have seen a trip to the AFC Championship in the stars for his Texan side, but we think just making the Playoffs would be a good place to start.
Their 2018 win total line is at 8.5 and I'd be tempted to take the under. That offensive line is still in really bad shape and Deshaun Watson is going to have to reign in his scrambling unpredictability with a recently repaired ACL.
This is going to get me some hate but I could see this team going 8-8. Prove me wrong, Texans....